After light rail: What will Va. Beach do with $40 million right-of-way?

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The plan for an expanded light rail might be dead, but the money spent on it continues to haunt the City of Virginia Beach.

The city purchased a 10 mile right-of-way from Norfolk Southern for $40 million. Half of that came from the state. Virginia Beach will have to pay the money back if they don’t use the right-of-way.

The loud dinging sound of The Tide arriving in Virginia Beach ended on election night. Mayor Sessoms and the city heard the message loud and clear.

“The referendum lost and the council accepts the will of the people,” Sessoms said.

The people spoke, but there is an unintended consequence to their vote. The city used $20 million of state money to buy a right-of-way.

“It’s not my plan to have to pay that money back,” Sessoms said.

In order to not pay it back, the city has six months to develop a transit plan for the right-of-way.

Mayor Sessoms said the possibilities include a bus rapid transit system, express bus lanes, driver-less cars, or a bike and walking trail.

What about the people who fought against light rail? We asked Robert Dean of the No Light Rail group what he thought the city should do.

“Think with our delegation here in Virginia Beach, and some cooperation from around the state, other delegates, I think they can forgive that,” he said. “I don’t really think that’s been explored.”

The mayor and the city council are on the clock.

“It will require some planning and some time, I’m convinced,” Mayor Sessoms said. “I’m very optimistic about what the outcome will be.”